Transnation: globalization and the reorganization of Chilean television in the early 1990s.

Author:Wiley, Stephen B. Crofts

In 1988 a broad coalition of centrist and center-left political parties--the Concertacion de Partidos por la Democracia (Coalition of Parties for Democracy)--defeated Chilean General Augusto Pinochet in a national plebiscite, paving the way for a transition to civilian rule after a decade and a half of military dictatorship. However, 2 years remained before the military government would step aside and allow the first civilian government to take office. Anticipating the transfer of power, the Pinochet government initiated a radical transformation of the political and economic framework that had structured Chilean television under authoritarian rule. University-run television stations were privatized, broadcast licensing was deregulated, and cable television was allowed to develop in a regulatory vacuum.

In this way, the framework within which Chilean media and telecommunication infrastructure would develop in the post-Pinochet years was largely predetermined by the military regime in the final 2 years of its rule. On the one hand, the military government pushed for the accelerated, deregulated development of private media in the late 1980s to create a strong, procapitalist cultural apparatus that would stave off any potential statist tendencies of the entering civilian government. Cable television was allowed to develop in the final years of the military regime without the prior establishment of a legal or regulatory framework. In 1989, the Pinochet government promulgated an 11th-hour communication law that created private television in Chile for the first time and virtually privatized much of the broadcast spectrum by granting indefinite spectrum rights to private broadcasting licensees. The new law also facilitated foreign ownership of Chilean media and placed few restrictions on either vertical or horizontal cross-ownership. In the meantime, the military government deliberately bankrupted the state-run Television Nacional (National Television [TVN]), Chile's largest and most influential network, in an effort to debilitate a potential ideological tool of the new government (J. Navarrete, personal communication, August 19, 1997). On the other hand (and somewhat paradoxically), the military put into place a powerful state apparatus of moral regulation, the Consejo Nacional de Television (National Television Council [CNTV]), to guarantee the "correct functioning" of Chilean television--that is, its "constant affirmation" of national values, morality, and good taste. The ideological prohibitions on left-wing political parties formalized by Article 8 of the military constitution of 1980 also remained in place during the plebiscite; the presence, in the new Congress, of senators appointed by the military would make it very difficult to alter that document in the posttransition years. In short, before stepping down, the Pinochet government had set the parameters for the development of a postauthoritarian cultural environment that was morally conservative but, at the same time, thoroughly transnationalized and radically neoliberal in economic terms.

Patricio Aylwin, Chile's first democratically elected president since the 1973 coup, assumed office in 1990. Under the Aylwin government, Chilean television experienced the consequences of the regulatory changes initiated by the military regime. There was a rapid and substantial influx of private investment in broadcasting and cable television from both foreign and domestic sources. As a direct consequence, television broadcasting infrastructure expanded dramatically. Cable television grew rapidly as well, linking the wealthiest Chileans to the transnational media flows of CNN, MTV, and ESPN, as well as a wide range of European and Latin American channels. Chilean producers also began to export their programming beyond national frontiers: to other Latin American countries, to North America, and to Asia. At the same time, the deregulatory climate quickly led to the rise of domestic and transnational media conglomerates and the concentration of media ownership, raising questions about the pluralism of Chilean news and public debate. Given the increasing dominance of transnational corporations, these developments also raised questions about the very survival of Chilean national media.

As it turned out, the increasing enmeshment of Chile's media system in global networks of investment, ownership, and technology did not obliterate either national media production or Chileans' preference for national programs. In fact, immersion in a sea of imported programming appeared to heighten the demand for national content, although that content was now seen against the backdrop of a broad range of programs from other parts of the world. In terms of both program production and audience practices, then, the transnationalization of Chilean television went hand in hand with a resurgence of the national. However, this should not be understood as the persistence of a preexisting national cultural formation in the face of global flows. Instead, it should be seen as a reorganization of national televisual culture in a new, more deeply transnational economic and technological context. The new televisual assemblage rearticulated Chile as a transnation--a national space constructed within, rather than against, the global, regional, and local flows of capital, technology, cultural production, and audience practices.

The Chilean case illustrates the complexity of the nexus between the national and the global and the need for concrete historical studies that move beyond a dichotomous view of global ization and the nation-state (Wiley, 2004). Debates about global ization have often pitted globalists against skeptics (Held, McGrew, Goldblatt, & Perraton, 1999). Whereas the globalists argue that globalization radically deterritorializes older social and political forms, including nations and states (e.g., Appadurai, 1990; Castells, 1996; Morley & Robins, 1995), the skeptics point to the continuing salience of the nation-state as a unit of political, economic, and cultural organization (e.g., Hirst & Thompson, 1996; Smith, 1995; Waisbord & Morris, 2001). Other analysts have sought to move beyond this dichotomy to understand national and regional forces as operating alongside or within the dynamics of globalization (e.g., Garcia Canclini, 1989; Massey, 1993; Miller, 1996; Sassen, 1991; Yudice, 2001). The transnationalization of Chilean television in the early 1990s provides a concrete case for investigating the actual workings of denationalization, transnationalization, and renationalization (Wiley, 2003, 2006). By taking a closer look at the ways in which the "Chileanness" of Chilean television was rearticulated in the context of increasing transnational connectivity, it becomes possible to rethink the implications of globalization for national media spaces more generally. The remainder of this section provides a brief review of recent research on the role of the media in the Chilean transition to democracy and global connectivity.

The Chilean transition to democracy has been widely analyzed (Americas Watch, 1988; Foxley, 1995; International Commission of the Latin American Studies Association to Observe the Chilean Plebiscite, 1989; Lagomarsino, Lewis, Sensenbrenner, & Wortley, 1988; Moulian, 1997; Munizaga, 1988; Munoz, 1990; Petras & Leiva, 1994; Puryear, 1994; Silva, 2004). A number of studies have also addressed the role of media in the transition, focusing on the importance of television in the 1988 plebiscite on General Pinochet's continued rule (CIS [CED-ILET-SUR; Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo (Center for Development Studies; CED)-Instituto Latinoamericano de Estudios Transnacionales (Latin American Institute of Transnational Studies; ILET)-Instituto de Investigacion Social y Documentacion (Institute for Social Research and Documentation; SUR)], 1989; Hirmas, 1993; Instituto Latinoamericano de Estudios Transnacionales, 1988a, 1988b, 1988c; Munizaga, 1988; Portales, Sunkel, Hirmas, Hopenhayn, & Hidalgo, 1989; Wiley, 2003, 2006). Many analysts ascribe a pivotal role to the media in Latin America's recent transitions to democracy (e.g., Skidmore, 1993). Others, however, are more cautious and warn analysts against overvaluing the influence of the media (Davies, 1999; Hirmas, 1993).

The policy changes and technological developments of the Chilean media in the posttransition period have been the subject of a number of studies, mostly conducted by intellectuals and professionals connected to the Concertacion governments. Brunner and Catalan (1995) provided a detailed summary of the regulatory changes affecting broadcasting and press freedom from the end of the Pinochet era through the early 1990s. Various branches of the Chilean government have conducted ongoing research on the development of television infrastructure, programming genres, and audience preferences (CNTV, 2005; Departamento de Estudios, 1994, 1995a, 1995b, 1997). A collection of essays by Chilean media professionals and researchers published by the Chilean government's Secretaria de Comunicacion y Cultura (Secretariat of Communication and Culture) chronicles the processes of technological change, market liberalization, and transnationalization of the Chilean media in the early 1990s (Halpern & Espana, 1995). Whereas most of the essays in this book praise the "modernization" of Chilean media (Cuadra, 1995; Lutz, 1995; Seissus, 1995), others (Paulsen, 1995; Pellegrini, 1995) question the near-complete lack of a regulatory framework to guide the process of privatization and transnationalization.

More recent studies of Chilean media have focused on the concentration of ownership in the 1990s, the continuing limits on the development of a vigorous independent press, and the displacement of traditional party politics by a political marketing model in which candidates are presented to a telemediated audience as competing...

To continue reading